Milk and Sugar

by Ann Levy

It's Sunday morning. You're ready for a relaxing day at home but you realize that you're all out of coffee. You take a quick trip to the grocery store, and while you're in line to check out, someone comes up behind you and points a gun at the cashier. "Stop what you're doing. Give...me all your Enfamil!"

Enfamil! Why would anyone steal Enfamil? Where's the baby?

I turn to stare at the gunman. It's a young man, looking like he hasn't slept in a decade or two. Right after the last time he washed his hair. My heart goes out to him. I want to make him tea, offer to hold the baby for him, and send him to bed for a nap.

The cashier, hands in the air, gestures to the key ring beside the register. "I need to unlock it", she squeaks.

Oh, yeah. They lock up formula. It's in the case behind the register.

I look around again, seeing reality this time. This CHILD has a gun, and isn't sweet and tired, but looks strung out and desperate. Probably a thug, high on something. I wonder if the cashier hit the silent alarm, like on TV. I glance to the sides, looking for signs of an off-duty undercover cop lurking around the dairy section, planning our rescue. No such savior exists.

Damn, I could've lived without this coffee! I could've sent one of the boys, telling them I wasn't dressed, or that I was already cooking breakfast. But, no, just thought I'd pop out in my slippers, and be back before anyone else was down. I think back to what I left at the house. I've got those cinnamon rolls for Chet and Aaron in the oven, they're probably burning. I only had like 20 minutes. I heard somebody in the bathroom, right when I was leaving. Maybe it was Steve, he's a light sleeper. Hope he gets the rolls out in time.

I shake my head in disgust. Let them burn! Rolls aren't my main worry, now.

I look back at the gunmen, now directing the cashier to unlock the case. Guess you couldn't have waited two minutes, until I'd left, huh? I'm the only person in here! You'd have the whole place to yourself! Bet you're not good at waiting. Bet you don't think past the end of your own nose. Bet that's why you got her pregnant.

The bell over the door dings. It's some young strong guy, YAY!!!! He'll run back outside, as soon as he sees us here frozen in fear at the register. No, he doesn't, I think in panic. It's an oblivious jogger, just out of the park, still red in the face. All he's thinking about is water, maybe one of those vitamin drinks. Head down, he darts toward the back of the store, making for the glass coolers. He never even sees the tableau in front of the register; the grandma in her robe, the gunman, the cashier with the can of Enfamil in her hand. He's more interested in his watch! Oh, great, now he's looking at his cell phone!

DIAL 911!

DIAL 911!

DIAL 911!

I try to command the runner with my mind, like in Star Wars. But, no luck. The Force must not be with me; he's probably checking whatever fitness app he uses.

Well, if he hasn't noticed the gunman, the gunman has noticed him. He yells from the register, "DROP IT! HEY YOU! FREEZE! DROP THAT PHONE!" The runner's head snaps up, a look of anger at being treated so rudely on his face, a retort on his lips. His face rapidly goes from lightly pink to deathly pale. His eyes roll up into his head. I have never actually seen that happen; the eyes really do roll up, I notice distractedly.

The runner collapses to the floor in the aisle leading from the register back to the cooler. His head hits the tiles with an audible "thunk".

The next few things happen in a blur. The gunman crumples with an "OOF!" The cashier triumphantly and menacingly holds the heavy can of formula over his head, ready to hit him again. I frantically dig in my robe pocket and then pull out my phone. I unlock it, and dial 911. My heart is thumping; I can't breathe. I might throw up..... no, wait, I'm OK now. I take a deep breath, to be sure. The runner wakes up, flops to his stomach, and lays his cheek against the cold tile under his head.

Why isn't my call going through? I look at my phone in exasperation. Shit! I let the battery go dead. I have to get the runner's phone. I move cautiously over to the gunman first. The cashier kicks the gun, sending it skittering down an aisle. She is still holding the can of Enfamil like a weapon. Once we're both sure he's out, she plops on his chest with one of the most satisfied, smug looks I've ever seen.

The bell on the door dings again. "Rob? The baby fell asleep. She wasn't hungry after all. Better get the formula, and more diapers before she wakes up. And grab some eggs for us, OK?" It's a young woman, also tired and desperate looking.

The runner finds his voice. He jumps to his feet. I think, maybe he shouldn't stand up so fast, but don't say anything. "Rob's going down, and you're going with him, so DON'T EVEN THINK IT!", he screams. The girl snaps a look at the runner and then at us at the register.

"Rob? Rob! Don't even think WHAT? What are you talking about?"

She turns on the cashier and me. "Why are you sitting on him? Get up, you cow! I have a sleeping baby in the car!" Girl-Mom is confused, scared, enraged, and screeching at the top of her lungs.

Before the cashier can answer, the runner runs to find the gun down the aisle. I yell at Girl-Mom that Rob is out cold, and when he wakes up the police are going to send him straight to jail! She stops yelling, looking at me in shock, her mouth open. "Rob? Going to jail? What for? The baby's been up all night, crying, and we ran out of formula and we're almost out of diapers! I just want breakfast, and for her to SHUT UP!!!!" Her whining stops abruptly, replaced by her tears. Recognizing the signs of a mother on the edge, I backpedal furiously. "Get off him!", I hiss to the cashier.

The runner comes up to the register, a dazed but relieved look on his face. "This gun is a toy!" I look over, and recognize it from the Toys "R" Us ads. It's a six-shooter, and is on loan from The Wild West. The only way that Rob could hurt us with it would be if he'd thrown it at us.

I turn back to Girl-Mom, whose outrage is gathering steam as her tears dry up. I shout, "Rob was trying to hold us up with a pretend gun to get Enfamil! We thought he was going to shoot us! I didn't call the police!" I stop abruptly, trying to remember if I've covered the salient points of the morning so far. Girl-Mom starts to cry again. From a car parked outside (one which I walked right past but didn't notice), distant wails start up. The cashier and I say together, "Aww!"

"How old is your baby?" I ask, at the same time the runner says to the cashier "God, listen to the lungs on that one!"

"IT'S THE ONLY WAY SHE CAN COMMUNICATE!" Girl- Mom and I are united in our defense of the crying baby. Rob, waking up on the floor, groans. "Oh, sweetie!" Girl-Mom says. Her head whips around as she directs a glare to us all.

Well, that decides it. She's overwhelmed. I should take over before things get....too weird. I help Rob up, and he apologizes to the cashier and the runner. The cashier, just happy that her shift is almost done, nods. The runner says, "Oh, you're sorry? And that's supposed to make it all fucking OK?" The cashier offers him a conciliatory candy bar. She promises to get him some ice from the freezer case for the bump on his head. He waves it off. I ask him, "You sure? You fell hard when you got scared and fainted!" His eyes widen. He looks down at where he fell. I consider telling him he'd fainted from fear in a manly way, but he seems already ready to cover up his reaction to the "robbery". He makes a noise of disgust, a "Lady, it's your funeral" snort and grabs the candy bar. The bell on the door dings with disapproval as he leaves.

I say briskly, "No harm, no foul. What sort of diapers do you use?" Girl-Mom looks at me wordlessly for a beat, then looks around for the baby aisle. Rob helpfully points her in the right direction. They disappear, then reappear moments later with a bag of Pampers Cruisers.

"Ring that up, I'm paying. Oh, and this coffee, too". Girl-Mom sprints out to the car to calm the wailing. It's been a while since I had a young baby in the house, so I invite Girl-Mom and Rob home for eggs, coffee and some mothering of my own. Chet loves babies, and Aaron and Steve can learn. Maybe they'll be inspired, and Chet and I will someday have our own grandkids wailing in a car. An old lady can dream, right?

"We might have cinnamon rolls." I tell Rob. He nods, still dazed.

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